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This page is no longer updated. The Macaulay Land Use Research Institute joined forces with SCRI joined forces on 1 April 2011 to create The James Hutton Institute. Please visit the James Hutton Institute website.

Monday 22nd July 2024

Management of Mountain Hares

Project Summary

The Scottish mountain hare, Lepus timidus scoticus, is a subspecies of the mountain hare Lepus timidus and is native to the highlands of Scotland Although widespread throughout Scotland, they are typically more numerous in central and eastern Scotland and are strongly associated with the heather moorland that is managed for red grouse - where they likely benefit from habitat management and predator control aimed at improving grouse densities.

Mountain hare populations on Scottish grouse moors can reach very high densities with up to 200 hares per square kilometre, and can show high amplitude regular fluctuations in density. Our research - based on the analysis of hunting records of the number of hares killed each year on individual sporting estates - suggests that around 50% of mountain hare populations are cyclic and show regular changes in density every 5-15 years. The reasons for these regular fluctuations remain unclear.

Mountain hare populations are under threat from habitat loss, fragmentation, and local over-exploitation and are thought to have declined in numbers and range in Great Britain. Long-term climate change is likely to adversely influence the sub-arctic/alpine habitats favoured by mountain hares. Mountain hares are listed in Annex V of the EC Habitats Directive (1992), as a species 'of community interest whose taking in the wild and exploitation may be subject to management measures'. Member States are therefore required to ensure the conservation status of mountain hares is maintained and that their populations are managed sustainably, and hares have recently been designated a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Species.

There are three broad questions our research on mountain hares is trying to address:

The Macaulay Institute, in a collaborative project led by The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and in association with The Scottish Game Keepers Association and Scottish Natural Heritage, has recently completed the first national mountain hare survey which aimed to assess the current distribution and management of mountain hares in Scotland. Read the full report, on the Scottish Natural Heritage publications web site.


  • Do mountain hare populations cycle?, Newey, S., Willebrand, T., Haydon, D., Dahl, F., Aebischer, N., Smith, A. and Thirgood, S., (2007) Oikos, 116, 1547-1557.
  • Unstable dynamics and population regulation in mountain hares: a review., Newey, S., Dahl, F., Willebrand, T. and Thirgood, S., (2007) Biological Reviews, 82, 527-549.
  • Prevalence, intensity and aggregation of intestinal parasites in mountain hares and their potential impact on population dynamics., Newey, S., Shaw, D.J., Kirby, A., Montieth, P., Hudson, P.J., and Thirgood, S.J., (2005) International Journal for Parasitology, 35, 367-373.
  • Parasite-mediated reduction in fecundity of mountain hares., Newey, S. and Thirgood, S.J., (2004) Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 271(Suppl 6.) S413-S415.
  • Do parasites influence condition and fecundity of female mountain hares?, Newey, S., Thirgood, S.J. and Hudson, P.J., (2004) Wildlife Biology, 10, 171-176.
  • Can distance sampling and dung plots be used to assess the density of mountain hares Lepus timidus?, Newey, S., Bell, M., Enthoven, S. and Thirgood, S.J., (2003) Wildlife Biology, 9, 185-192.
  • The conservation status and management of mountain hares., Newey, S., Iason, G. and Raynor, R., (2006) SNH publications.
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